A Life Below the Threshold?: Examining Conflict Between Ethical Principles and Parental Values in Neonatal Treatment Decision Making

Three common ethical principles for establishing the limits of parental authority in pediatric treatment decision–making are the harm principle, the principle of best interest, and the threshold view. This paper considers how these principles apply to a case of a premature neonate with multiple significant co-morbidities whose mother wanted all possible treatments, and whose health care providers wondered whether it would be ethically permissible to allow him to die comfortably despite her wishes. Whether and how these principles help in understanding what was morally right for the child is questioned. The paper concludes that the principles were of some value in understanding the moral geography of the case; however, this case reveals that common bioethical principles for medical decision–making are problematically value-laden because they are inconsistent with the widespread moral value of medical vitalism.